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Civil Service

Shared Services – making government digital on the inside too

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Head and shoulders of Matthew Coats
Matthew Coats, Chief Operating Officer, Ministry of Justice

Across government we’re working to digitise our public-facing services, making them more accessible and easier to use. The transactions we all make as employees also really matter and include things like performance management and checking our payslips. It’s important that we bring this digital approach to our internal processes and systems, making government digital on the inside too.

Last autumn I was presented with an opportunity to help make these services better. In addition to my day job as Chief Operating Officer at the Ministry of Justice, I was asked to look after Shared Services at the Cabinet Office.


At the outset, I agreed to work on three broad priorities as part of John Manzoni’s approach to transforming government.

Firstly, to make further improvements to the service provided by SSCL to a number of departments. The creation of the Single Operating Platform (SOP) has been a major achievement, and it’s now the largest platform of its type in Europe. It has helped us make major savings for the taxpayer. It was introduced as part of an effort to make it possible for people to conduct transactions like the ones I described above. A single operating platform means they can do this all in one place online. It has been successful, but we’ve found that people increasingly want a solution that’s more similar to the digital services they use in their day to day lives.

Secondly, to develop a strategy for the whole of government. This was done last year, and we launched it publicly a few weeks ago. You can find out more here. In summary, we aim to: drive value and efficiency by moving to cloud-based services, to further standardise our processes, and to meet user needs.

The strategy will offer departments a choice of technology platforms to create competition and promote innovation. It also opens up opportunities to start implementing robotics and machine-learning to speed up services and help drive costs down.  We’ve already made excellent progress on standardising processes across government in both HR and Finance.


We need to do more to make sure our services are simple to use and offer real benefits to the people who use them. This isn’t just a nice to have. By making it possible for users to self-serve easily, we reduce our reliance on relatively costly contact and processing centres. In other words, self-service is fundamental to realising efficiencies through shared services, and means placing user needs at the heart of our approach.

User research tells us that people want intuitive mobile solutions that measure up to the standards of technology we use in our everyday lives. The Digital Service Standard has led to a massive improvement in the quality of digital services offered to the public. But while the Technology Code of Practice has helped to improve the services we offer staff, those services are often some way from what we would consider acceptable for the public.

We are starting to look at how we bridge that gap. Inevitably that will mean moving internal services towards the Digital Service Standard for public services. These types of platform are increasingly commoditised services, so building an entirely new one for government isn’t the answer. That means we need to use the platforms available to us to provide a great user experience.

We’ll be doing some work on making that happen. Increasingly, civil servants are working flexibly (splitting time between their offices, government hubs and working from home) meaning a mobile solution is best. The vision is that civil servants will be able to claim expenses, book their holidays, and check their pay check where ever they are and in a way that suits them.

I’m really pleased that we’ve now launched the first SOP Mobile offering for staff, firstly at Cabinet Office and then at the Environment Agency. SOP Mobile is browser-based, and we will listen to feedback to improve the user experience. We will also do some beta-testing with off-the-shelf apps to make sure we’ve found the best approach for users. Once we know from users which solution works best, we will look at developing and improving that service.


My third priority is to further develop the capability and relationships of the shared services team. They are now Government Shared Services (GSS), a permanent centre of excellence, rather than a change programme. We’ve also restructured around three director appointments (for Delivery, Strategy and Technology). I’d like to start to build the community of shared services experts around government: there are many unsung heroes who work in this challenging area who we could support more.

Graphic with legend 'A great place to work'I think we’ve made progress in the last few months, and we have a real opportunity to help with the overall transformation of government. Shared Services are important to our people’s experience of work, so getting this right matters.

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  1. Comment by Mark Thompson, Technology Director posted on

    Government Shared Services (GSS) is committed to delivering shared services that transform the way we work for the better and we want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read and respond to this blog.

    We understand the importance of getting this right, and user needs remain at the heart of our commitment. Integral to the new strategy is continuing collaboration with end users, departments and HR and Finance professionals to deliver successful shared services for everyone.

    We value your feedback, if you would like to follow up with us please get in touch at

  2. Comment by JD posted on

    I remember completing the DSE training and questions around software stated that software should be 'user friendly' and 'enable' you to complete as task with minimal stress or to that effect, keep an eye out next time you do DSE training.
    I did try and put a tick in the 'No' for this, to then get my line manager ask why and I said no, I said I felt I had to answer the question honestly and that it doesn't help me.
    Reply back was that we can't change the systems but need the issue resolved, so now I lie about the systems 'enabling' me.
    I wouldn't mind if the wording was changed but I felt I was responding correctly at the time. how wrong! ha

  3. Comment by Frustrated by SOP posted on

    Totally agree with many of the other comments. While the application looks good the terminology is different with no internal guide to offer any assistance. Knowledge Base is only useful if you firstly can access SOP itself then secondly you know the "right" word to search for!!
    Waiting times for pages to update/upload is way too long.
    SSCL helpline support not in line with DWP working hours.
    Service Requests not processed quickly enough. Barriers created where SSCL dont make contact to resolve SR just issue a message on SR.... seriously big issue when access to SOP is intermittent!!
    My list could go on....
    Positive side service agents are generally helpful and pleasant.

  4. Comment by enlightened SOP user posted on

    “CAB employee self-service is not a valid responsibility of the current user”
    says the "successful" SOP. Figure that one out, Matthew.

  5. Comment by One of thousands of SOP users posted on

    When I'm surrounded by such talented digital people working so hard to create services that work for people, the sheer awfulness of SOP makes me want to cry. It's demotivating.

    If we can't call a spade a spade then we will get nowhere. For Matthew Coats to say it is a success shocks me.

  6. Comment by Anon posted on

    Any operating platform that can't do a simple password reset without a complaint having to be raised to resolve it cannot possibly be considered a success. This is a continuous, ongoing issue that I see happening time after time. The system may have appeared to make savings to the taxpayer but the considerable time wasted by civil servants unable to undertake basic functions due to this dysfunctional platform mean the cost 'saving' is just wasted elsewhere in the system.

  7. Comment by in Cabinet Office posted on

    SOP causes so many problems for so many people. There must be hundreds of hours of productivity lost every month in just the Cabinet Office trying to deal with the frustrations.

    Why do we have to log in every month to get a payslip, then have to print it to PDF and sign in to external mail to send it out - having an automatic email option would be simple and save a lot of time.

    Do the major savings to the costpayer include the premium rate only phone support line for SSCL? - costs which are charged to business phones.

  8. Comment by Pete posted on

    I think the direction set out in the blog is a really positive one.

    I only really use SOP for expenses, but haven't had any issues with that.
    I'm in no doubt there are problems and issues with SOP. Having said that, I've never worked anywhere that people didn't have issues with whatever system was in place.

  9. Comment by John posted on

    SOP has been running slowly or completely unavailable for over a week in DWP. Staff have been unable to claim expenses, Finance sections unable to update balances, staff have been unable to make changes to personal details....
    This is certainly not a success story, and the fact you are trumpeting it as such is laughable!
    Another complete I.T. failure in the department...what a "Great Place To Work"!!

  10. Comment by User needs? posted on

    I couldn’t imagine a system that is less intuitive to use so I welcome any attempt to make it better.

    I’d be interested to know whether SoP was subject to a GDS service assessment? It’s clearly a transactional service and, even though it’s an internal system, it appears as though it would require one

    If it passed then it largely discredits the work that’s been done to put user needs first. If it hasn’t been assessed then I’d like to understand why not?

  11. Comment by Frustrated at Cabinet Office posted on

    I wish "Meeting end user needs" was strategy objective number 1 and not number 3. SOP is terrible. As a manager I have better things to do than read a 36 page guide on how to record an employee's sick absence in SOP (and then a 41 page guide on closing a sick absence [and a 43 page guide on how to input medical evidence]).

    Why is this so complicated?

    Matthew Coats and Civil Service CEO John Manzoni should try to use the system themselves for some routine tasks (claiming expenses like an eye test or taxi fare, recording and closing sick absence etc) to see how bad it is and how important it is that SOP is fixed.

  12. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    As a civil servant in Cabinet Office I have been trying and failing to access SOP for 8 weeks. Many colleagues are similarly unable to access. It's riddled with issues and near unusable, *if* you can log-in.

    Support queries and complaints go unanswered, or send users in circles repeating the same actions.

    Internal communication emails from our department make jokes of how bad it is or how it is generally inaccurate. As a critical tool for employees, it's disappointing we're not given something that is fit-for-purpose.

    Amazingly it's actually *worse* that the software we had before. I don't know how that's possible.

  13. Comment by Frustrated at MoJ posted on

    Not sure I'd call shared services 'successful'? On what basis? Matthew Coats is at MoJ and should know there hasn't been a month since go-live (which was January 2017 for MoJ!), from my experience, where there hasn't been issues with SOP and trying to produce a set of management accounts! Some would say it's been a nightmare!

    Get it right internally first before going public.